For Days That Overwhelm

Dear friends, I’ve been cocooned in some kind of gray pall for the past few weeks. There were joyful occasions, as well as some anxious ones, for some loved ones and for ourselves. In the moments that I stopped moving, stillness weighed my hand down — not heavily, but enough to keep silence. I had the feeling of waiting, without knowing what for; waiting, dwelling, and confessing in the presence of the One who knows me best. 

In this time, I planted vegetable seeds outside, waited for long weeks, and then gave up on them. I read beautiful things by writer friends and drafted some scribblings of my own, but all my thoughts were too swift and others’ criticism too fresh to make much headway. 

Two sprouts of lettuce emerged in the garden on the same morning that the muting shadow seemed to lift… on its own. I can try to explain away that pensive season with more prosaic terms — “mental exhaustion,” “busyness,” “end-of-year duties” — but I think He made more of it than a simple dent in the calendar, and at any rate had no power to end it.

In sum, I’m glad to be back writing, and wanted to begin by passing on the image below in case you find it heartening during seasons that seem overcast or overwhelming. 

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I struggle with fear: more than I’d like, and more than (I tell myself) I should.

When I read the Psalms, it’s the weapon I see in the hand of my unseen adversaries. They lie in wait and come in force, and every time my courage fails I’m dismayed that we’re all here again. Will I always grapple with worst-case scenarios? This time, will everything finally fall apart? My eyes dart about, looking for signs of impending disaster, and the foreshadowing is everywhere. Fear isolates before it crushes, which means that your heart can die within yourself a hundred times before your strength gives out completely. There’s no help coming, it whispers.

So I turn pages with a leaden spirit, sensitive to all the passages where others have stood as I do. I’m comforted to see that when the Bible talks of fear and tells us not to be afraid, the circumstances are actually daunting. Women in Sarah’s lineage of faith are called to “not fear anything that is frightening” (I Pet. 3:6, emphasis mine), and the words “Do not be afraid, for I am with you” appear throughout the Bible’s long history as enemies swarm at the borders and the threat of persecution looms. Jesus’ disciples in the storm “were filling with water and were in danger” (Lk. 8:23). Fear holds no right of way even the boat is sinking and death seems imminent. We are carried by an almighty God who has chosen to love us forever.

I’ve grown increasingly grateful for a scene from the Old Testament over the past week. In it, the Aramean king has sent a strong force of chariots and horses to extract and capture the prophet Elisha, and when Elisha’s servant wakes up in the morning, he sees them surrounding the city.

“Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha.

“Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. (2 Kings 6:15-17, NLT)

There are times when I can comprehend this better than a talk about faith in the abstract. I can see the armies on the battlefield, and hear the resulting havoc when the enemy is struck blind. I can grasp this display of assured strength and victory, and so I’m profoundly thankful to be shown here what it means to have the presence of God at my side.

However formidable our obstacles and foes today — press on, friends. We are, in fact, never as alone as fear would have us believe. We are surrounded.

And those who are with us are more than those who are with them.